Waco: Local health officials investigate whooping cough outbreak

Published: Jul. 25, 2019 at 12:46 PM CDT
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Waco-McLennan County Public Health District officials are investigating what they described Thursday as a “community-wide outbreak of pertussis.”

“There are eight confirmed cases with no single source connecting all of the cases,” the health district said in a press release Thursday afternoon.

The health district announced on July 10 that it was investigating three cases of whopping cough that involved children who aren’t from the same family, but who do share a connection.

Pertussis can cause a severe cough that may last for weeks or months and can lead to coughing fits or vomiting.

"People can cough hard enough to break ribs, so very severe cough," Dr. Priya Srinivasan, a pediatrician with Baylor Scott & White Health, said at the time.

"In younger children they may not make that 'whooping' sound, but you will have a very severe persistent cough, they may stop breathing, vomit, trouble feeding because of the cough, and that stage can go on for up to three months."

The disease can be tricky to diagnose at first because it starts out with symptoms similar to a common cold like coughing and fever.

"It doesn't always present itself as obvious," health district spokeswoman Kelly Craine said earlier this month.

"But within two weeks, that cough is going to move to an extreme cough."

Anyone can get it, but it is particularly dangerous for babies, pregnant women, and older people with weakened immune systems.

"What's scary to us (doctors) is basically with the younger infants, they can actually stop breathing," said Srinivasan. "There have been cases of young infants who are too young be vaccinated catching this--they can die, potentially, from the disease."

There were only two confirmed cases of pertussis in McLennan County in all of 2018, officials said, and they were unrelated.

Health experts say vaccination is the best protection against getting it and spreading it.

"The way you protect yourself: one of course is to wash your hands, cover your cough, those are good ways to do that, also to be fully vaccinated," Craine said.

"Vaccination is so important because our infants, they don't get their first vaccination until three-months, and you're not fully protected until 15-months because it's a series of shots, and so for all those little ones that are not fully protected, we as adults must be vaccinated as well."